My mother was peacefully sleeping in the sun during a hot summer day in Disneyland, little did she know this was a grave mistake. This long summer nap was the cause of my mom’s melanoma. She battled long and hard until it had spread to her brain. Then my mother had to have two brain surgeries to officially be in remission. The doctors only gave her three years to live and told her she would never be able to have a child. Despite this, she overcame the odds and is still in remission to this day with a child (aka me). Unfortunately, the brain surgeries have left her unable to work like she used to which meant my dad had to work even more.
Amid covid, my family was hit with a curveball. My dad had gone a month constantly being tired and sore all over his body. Once he finally went to the doctor, we got the news that we never expected. He was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and pancreas. The tumors were so large in size that the doctors couldn’t operate or do chemotherapy. Our only option was immunotherapy. So with the news of his diagnosis and him turning 71, my dad stopped working.
With both of my parents being unable to work there was only one thing left for me to do which was get a job. I started working that summer at Arby’s. Seeing my father and mother work things out despite their conditions truly inspired me to push myself to be a better version of myself. I eventually got a new job and became a team lead which led to me earning more money. I paid off my dad’s car and got new tires, I bought and paid off my phone, I buy all my clothes and food and fund all my extracurriculars. Fast forward to now a year after my father’s diagnosis. He is still taking immunotherapy and making great strides toward remission. I have now picked up a second job at Aspen creek Grill as a line cook to bring more money to the household.
It can be difficult balancing two jobs, youth group, volunteering, schoolwork, and wrestling. But then I look at my father and my mother. Two strong and loving individuals. One that has overcome and the other that will overcome this horrible disease that has taken so much from so many. Every time I look at them it’s a reminder to me that I can overcome anything. This journey with my family has not been easy and it’s still not over. But receiving this scholarship would not only be a humongous honor and blessing to me but also for my family.
In March of 2020, COVID shut down my school and put us online. I never thought I would miss being at school, but I did. I missed seeing my friends, my teachers and being in a classroom. By 2021, our school found a way to teach us in person. Life was closer to “normal” and I was a starter for my school lacrosse team, a top program in the state. I ran through the field hundreds of times and was being recruited by college coaches. I was fast and strong.
However, one day, I found myself winded. Lacrosse players are often bruised from all the hits they take, but I started to notice my bruises were bigger, darker and more painful. In April, I was hit in the ribs during a game. It made me feel terrible, but I found the strength to push through. The next day, I could not make it through practice. I told my parents and they took me to the doctor, where I got an x-ray but I did not have any broken ribs. The next week, I went back to playing, but I was slower. Then, my skin turned yellow, so I returned to the doctor and got a CT scan. My spleen was swollen and my blood work was suspicious. I was admitted to Riley Hospital for Children and on April 29, I was diagnosed with B-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The doctors put me on a twenty-nine day treatment plan that would hopefully put me into remission. There were so many needles, bloodwork and pills. They put a port in my chest and told me my hair would fall out. My stomach got puffy and my muscles disappeared.
I was scared and I was angry but I was determined. Day twenty-nine included a spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy and I was told I was officially in remission. I was so happy, until I found out that remission was not the end of treatment. I would need two and a half years of chemotherapy and medications. I would be able to play lacrosse but not this season. I was crushed all over again.
A family friend told me a story about how her sister went through Leukemia treatments with a mindset that she was going to make it with as little side effects as possible. I decided that was how I wanted to conquer blood cancer. I am lucky that I have a great community supporting me. They have built me up and kept me fighting for my life. I try to stay active to keep my body strong and I take my medicine every day. My friends play my favorite sports with me and my family makes sure I follow my treatment calendar. My school works with me so I can attend classes in person, from my hospital bed or from home. My classmates Facetime me to do group projects if I am not at school and my teachers know I may turn off my camera when a nurse comes into the room. I am back training with my school’s lacrosse team for my senior season and am working on regaining my speed and skills. I will make this work.
Next year I will study Business at either Indiana University in Bloomington or at Purdue University in West Lafayette. College will be different for me as I will need to take medications daily and visit Riley Hospital every 28 days for blood tests and additional treatments. I am focused and, with the help of the university disability department, will find a way to make my freshman year successful. I am thankful for the opportunity to apply for scholarships, like the Judy Christofolis Cancer Scholarship, to help pay for my college. Medical treatment for Leukemia is very long and expensive and monthly travel will be an added cost next school year.